The Zen of the Text-First Portfolio: How to get Started Creating an Online Portfolio

Lauren Holliday
9 min readApr 24, 2016

Google yourself lately?

More than 1 billion names are Googled every day, and more than 75 percent of HR departments are required to Google applicants. So if you’re applying to jobs and/or freelance gigs, it’s likely you're being Googled.

One way to improve and impress these Googlers is by creating a professional website for yourself.

According to Jacquelyn Smith on, “56% of all hiring managers are more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool — however, only 7% of job seekers actually have a personal website.”

Not only does having your own website differentiate you from the majority of applicants without one, but it also allows you to control what people find when they search for you and proves that you take your career seriously.

Point blank: Online portfolios are the new resumes, and you needed one yesterday.

A portfolio is an evergreen collection of past work experience that reflects your past accomplishments, skills, experience and personality.

It’s likely many of you don’t have an online portfolio because you’re scared of the amount of time it’ll take to make and/or you have little to no idea what to include. I wrote this post for you.

In this article, I’ll walk you through my annual process for creating and updating my online portfolio, which I’m in the midst of currently revamping right now. The best news is this exercise will take you only a day to complete so cancel your Saturday plans, because we’re about to plan the crux of your digital footprint — your online portfolio. Ready?! Let’s dive in.

I. Find Your Focus

“Your portfolio isn’t just a catalogue of past work; it’s a clear definition of the work you’ll get hired to do in the future. That’s why it’s critical to align your pitch with the work you want to attract.” — Paul Jarvis

In order to make your portfolio, you must be able to answer three questions:

  1. What is the goal or purpose of your portfolio?
  2. Who is your target audience (buyer personas)?
  3. What solutions (benefits) do you offer prospects?

In this section, you’ll learn how to answer the first two questions while the next section will help you answer the last one.

1. Goals

Because you’re reading this post, it’s safe to assume that you have a goal you’re trying to reach by creating an online portfolio.

Maybe you want a new/better job. Maybe you want to land [more] freelance clients. Or maybe you aren’t ready for more work or a new job. Maybe you just want to get ahead and begin building awareness for your personal brand now since establishing your digital footprint takes time.


  • What is the purpose of my site?
  • What do I hope my site gets me?
  • What type of work do I hope my portfolio gets me?

2. Audience

Personal branding is about expressing your authentic self and making you an active partner in creating the direction of your life. To find the right target, you need to review your needs, values, strengths, interests, mission, vision, and unique personality traits. (Source)

Pretend you have a job, where you can never be yourself. Your co-workers don’t laugh at your jokes, and no one invites you out to happy hour on Fridays. It’d probably make you wonder how you ended up even getting hired since you’re so different from everyone else.

This scenario depicts the distress that awaits you if you don’t clearly articulate your ideal audience.

We go through the target audience process even at an early age. Think back to when you were a kid. When you wanted a treat you went through the target audience process. You knew that your dad probably wouldn’t be the one to approve your request so you went to your mom and you made sure to catch her in the right mood.

That’s an example of defining your target audience. It’s a basic example, but businesses go through that process so they have more success. It doesn’t make sense to try to please everyone. Your time, energy and money are better invested in a target audience. And that goes for defining the target audience for your personal brand too. (Source)

I like the example above because it demonstrates a universal truth: If you target the right people with the right message at the right time, you’ll get everything you want and more. In the example, you didn’t need both mom and dad to say yes for that treat. You only needed one of them to say yes in order to get what you wanted. In real life, you only need one hiring manager or a few clients to say yes in order to do the work you want at the price you want.

“One of the biggest mistakes that budding personal branders make is trying to appeal to everyone. Think about the game of darts: You have to aim in order to hit the board. (If you let your darts go without aiming them, you probably won’t be very popular.) If you hit the board, you score. And if your aim is very good and you hit the bull’s eye, even better!” (Source)

Your portfolio should focus so hard that it pisses the wrong people off. Who are the wrong people? Anyone you don’t want to or wouldn’t enjoy working with/for.

If you want to get a job, imagine what your ideal workplace looks like. What do they dress like? How do they talk? Is it formal or informal?

If you want to land more clients, define your ideal client’s characteristics.

If I didn’t already have an idea of the type of people I’d like to attract, then I’d answer the following questions that Paul Jarvis tells his students to answer in The Creative Class:

  • How would you describe the audience you want to serve?
  • What draws you to these people? Why are you interested in working with them?
  • Why do you think they’d hire someone like you?
  • What value do your skills provide? Why would someone want to hire someone who has these skills?
  • What common problems do they share that you could help them solve?

Once I answered the questions, I’d research my audience. Here’s an example of what I’d do.

I know I love Medium, and I think it’s likely Medium would be a perfect client for me since we seem to have similar values and online personalities… Plus, I use their product daily.

So if I wanted a job at Medium (or other companies like Medium), I’d begin searching for who posted jobs I find interesting on its career page.

Once I have a few people’s names, I’d open LinkedIn in a new tab and search for them.

Next, I’d use my handy dandy email hunter extension, and with the click of a button, I’d have their email addresses.

Finally, I’d take those email addresses and input them into Crystal Knows, which would give me all types of juicy insights into these potential clients and its accuracy confidence.

This is just one way to research your target audience. Here’s a few more resources on the topic:

II. Conduct a Brain Dump

I usually only update my portfolio once a year. Here’s my process.

First, open up a G-Doc (Here’s an example of mine from 2014) and just dump everything you can think of that you’ve done so far. No editing at this stage!

I like to check out:

  • Timehop
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pocket

Because it’ll remind me of posts I’ve written that I forgot about as well as really great days in my life, when I achieved something that I couldn’t wait to share.

Here’s a few questions I like to ask myself as well:

  • Who did I work for? What did I do for them?
  • What posts did I write?
  • What were my big victories?
  • What were my speed bumps?
  • What were my favorite professional moments?
  • What/who inspired you?
  • Who did I meet/interview?
  • What would I have done differently if I had to do it over again?
  • Is there anything I left unresolved or unfinished?
  • What courses did I take?
  • What books did I read?
  • What events did I attend?
  • Who/what made me mad or moved me to action?
  • What new software or tools did I use/learn?

I usually dedicate an hour or two to brain dumping, depending on how much I’ve done or how long it’s been since the last time I completed this exercise.

Here’s a few more resources on the topic:

III. Curate Your Best Work (or the work you want to do more of)

Now, it’s time to organize. Group individual projects together. It doesn’t matter if you did more than one gig for one client, still group different projects separately.

At this point, I’d open another G-Doc, and start writing out the details of each individual project.

Here’s an example of an individual project outline:

Project Title

Executive Summary

(You’ll want to write the executive summary last.)

The executive summary of your project should be short and sweet for people who just want to scan your site. Only a few conscientious prospects will actually read each project’s case study.

Your summary should be a high-level overview of the other sections, which will include:

  • Challenge: The reason they hired you.
  • Solution: How you solved the problem.
  • Key results: What were the deliverables or KPIs?


You need to give prospects context into the problem you were hired to solve. You can do this by making the following sections:

Project background: What context information do you have for this job?

The Problem: Why did they hire you?

Goals & Objectives: What were the agreed-upon goals of the projects?


How did you get from the problem to the solution? The process section is to describe how you approached solving the problem and why you made the decision(s) to approach the project this way. It’s also helpful because it gives your prospect an idea of how it is to work with you.


Take screenshots. Include links. Record a video. Do anything to showcase your solution in this section.


Show them the numbers. This section should showcase your success metrics from the project. Success metrics could be qualitative (a testimonial or press quote), or better yet, quantitative (KPIs).

According to Shopify:

While the type of metrics you report on can vary from one project to another, they should directly address the objectives you established in The Context and Challenge section. Having these results in hand will allow you to show your prospects that your work had a direct influence on your client meeting their goals. If you can do this, you’ll help them feel more comfortable putting their business (and their money) into your hands.

NOTE: Don’t be scared to ask for testimonials!

IV. Repeat

Make case studies for each of your projects the same way we just did above. Remember, quality is better than quantity.

V. Put Your Portfolio Online

Last, and certainly most fun, is actually designing a website to showcase all your amazing work you just outlined.

Want to learn how to build websites? Sign up for my Full Stack Marketer course on or follow me on Medium to be notified when I publish my next post on the topic.